On the shelf: July 2022 reads

In July 2022, I read:

  • Life of an MP by Jess Phillips (research)
  • The Quickening by Rhiannon Ward
  • The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
  • Such a Good Mother by Helen Monks Takhar (proof)
  • Sea Defences by Hilary Taylor (proof)
  • Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday
  • Next of Kin by Kia Abdullah
  • The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz

A character in the book I am working on at the moment is a local MP, so I read Jess Phillip’s book to get an insight into life in politics. This was a really helpful look at the role of an MP and some of the challenges and frustrations they face. I would recommend this to anyone interested in looking at what happens behind the scenes in Westminster.

Rhiannon Ward also writes thrillers as Sarah Ward, and I have read some of her crime books, so I thought I would give her historical fiction a go. Set in post-first world war England, this is about a female photographer in an unhappy second marriage who is commissioned to take pictures for a house sale. Heavily pregnant, Louisa becomes embroiled in a recreation of an infamous séance and is warned there is a curse on the house. This was a little slow in places for my taste, but I found the plot got moving in the second half of the book and by the end, I was gripped by this gothic mystery.

Sticking with historical fiction, I also read The Mercies, which was a Richard and Judy pick some time ago. I enjoyed Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s The Girl of Ink and Stars and I think she is wonderful writer. The Mercies is set in an Arctic village in 1621. A ferocious storm leaves a community devastated. As they are starting to pick up their lives, a delegation from Scotland arrive to stamp out suspected witchcraft. This was an evocative and atmospheric book. I loved the descriptions of everyday life in the island and the horrible realisation what the men are going to do and how powerless the women are to stop them. This is a story that is going to stay with me for a long time to come.

I was lucky enough to receive a proof of Helen Monks Takhar’s new book, Such a Good Mother. I loved her first book, and her follow-up does not disappoint. An elite school, a group of bitchy mothers and a woman desperate to get her and her family in the inner circle makes for a gripping plot. This is a deliciously dark and twisty tale which explores the lengths people will go to get what they want. Complex characters, intricate plotting and a satisfying ending.

My second proof was Sea Defences by Hilary Taylor. I met Hilary at a writing conference a few years ago and I am delighted that her debut novel will be published in January 2023. Sea Defences is a brilliant book. I love the way she has created characters that are all good people but come into conflict with each through tragic circumstances. I really enjoyed the setting, and I thought the ending was brilliant. This is a stunning debut: evocative descriptions, strong characterisation and a simmering tension which builds to a thrilling finale. Fans of Broadchurch, in particular, will love this book.

Ego is the Enemy is a book about stoicism. It made for an interesting read, not least because I disagreed with about half of what Holiday said! His persuasive argument was that our suffering comes from our ego and that we would be happier if we always put society and our contribution to the world first. Although this is very noble, I did disagree with some of his comments about being dispassionate about the work that we do and not having personal goals.

Next of Kin by Kia Abdullah is a powerful, heart-wrenching legal drama about a woman on trial for the manslaughter of her baby nephew. I have to say I found some of this book very difficult to read because of the subject matter. Abdullah takes an unflinching look at the way the legal system, and society, treats childless women and the depictions of grief are extremely well done.

The Plot is a book that will particularly appeal to writers. A washed-up creative writing tutor encounters a student who has a brilliant idea for a book. When he finds out that the student has died, the tutor steals the plot, and the book becomes a bestseller. However, the fear of being exposed haunts him and he becomes increasingly unravelled as he receives anonymous messages accusing him of plagiarism. There is a lot of humour in this book and I found it a very enjoyable read.

On the shelf: November 2021 reads

In November, I read:

  • Ask No Questions by Claire Allan
  • The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell (non-fiction)
  • Haven’t They Grown by Sophie Hannah
  • The Catcher in the Rye by J D Salinger
  • We Can’t All be Astronauts by Tim Clare (non-fiction)

I have read all of Claire Allan’s psychological thrillers and enjoyed them. Ask No Questions wasn’t my favourite, but it was still an interesting read about a journalist investigating the death of a young girl 20 years ago. Has there been a miscarriage of justice or was the right man sent to prison for the crime? 

The Art of War for Writers has lots of great advice for writers, delivered in very short chapters (some only a page or two). It’s a book I will probably dip into again when I need some inspiration.

Haven’t They Grown has a really intriguing premise – what if you saw a friend that you had lost touch with 12 years ago and her children hadn’t changed a bit? My brain was on overdrive reading this psychological thriller and trying to guess the answer.

One of the teenaged characters in my next book is reading The Catcher in the Rye, so I wanted to make sure I got the references right. I haven’t read this book for years and I had forgotten most of it. Nothing really happens, to be honest, but it’s a great example of voice and character in action.

I have been following and enjoying Tim Clare’s podcast, Death of 1,000 cuts, particularly his ‘Couch to 80k bootcamp’ which really helped me kickstart my writing when I got stuck. We Can’t All be Astronauts follows Clare’s journey to becoming a published writer. You can’t say he didn’t pull out all the stops, from infiltrating London Book Fair pretending to be a publisher, to appearing on a TV reality show. Really funny in parts, but there is also a very serious side as Clare explores the impact of his mental breakdown and how writing aided his recovery. A lot to think about in this highly engaging memoir.

On the Shelf: October 2021 reads

In October 2021, I read:

  • The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins
  • Watch Her Fall by Erin Kelly
  • Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara 
  • Confessions of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell
  • Crossing the Lines by Amanda Huggins (proof copy)
  • The Strangeworlds Travel Agency 2: The Edge of the Ocean by L D Lapinski

I am a big fan of The Hunger Games trilogy, so I was excited to read the spin-off which takes us back to the origins of the Games when Cornelius Snow is a young man, acting as a mentor to one of the tributes. I wouldn’t recommend starting with this book if you haven’t read the others, or you weren’t a fan of the original books, but it was great to be back in this world and I am hoping this is the start of a new series.

Watch Her Fall is set in the world of ballet, and it was fascinating to get a peek behind the curtains of a professional dance school. I was a bit disappointed though that the whole book wasn’t set in this world though. A very enjoyable read and a good, twisty plot that kept me guessing.

I had come across Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line when it was appearing on the shortlists of writing competitions before it got a publishing deal. I’d always loved the title and the opening sequence, and the rest of the novel didn’t disappoint. It follows a group of street kids in India solving the mystery of the disappearance of children from their shanty town. Heart-breaking at times, and hard-hitting in its depiction of poverty, I am definitely following this series.

Confessions of a Bookseller is a non-fiction book I was given for my birthday. I enjoyed the wry humour and the ups and downs of running a book shop.

Crossing the Lines is an atmospheric and haunting coming-of-age story of a young girl escaping her fate and returning to her roots. With compelling characters and evocative prose, this is a journey of self-discovery that will stay with you long after you read the last line. Crossing the Lines was a proof copy and was published in November 2021.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Strangeworlds Travel Agency 2: The Edge of the Ocean. It’s a middle-grade book so I am not its intended audience, but I just love the world(s) L D Lapinski has created. I am definitely going to be reading the rest of this series. I’ve bought these books as Christmas and birthday presents and they always get the thumbs up from young readers.